A Hollywood writers' strike looms: What to know

Thousands of TV and movie writers voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike.

April 18, 2023, 1:01 PM

Hollywood writers are calling on the studios to show them the money.

Thousands of television and movie writers voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike when their contracts run out on May 1, unions representing the writers said on Monday.

The move sets TV creators on a collision course with the major studios as an industry-wide shift to streaming reorients the way shows are made and monetized.

Meanwhile, a strike would carry implications for millions of viewers, immediately disrupting some shows and delaying the development of others.

Here's what to know about the impending strike, how a previous labor dispute played out and what it all means for TV offerings:

Why are Hollywood writers threatening to strike?

The contract dispute follows a decade-long shift to streaming that has slashed writer pay and worsened working conditions, the unions, which belong to East and West Coast branches of the Writers Guild of America, said in a statement.

Before the emergence of streaming, a studio typically ordered between 13 and 22 episodes for a season of television, allowing writers to work on a given project for as many as 40 weeks, Justin Halpern, a showrunner on "Abbott Elementary" and a union member, told ABC News.

Currently, studios order as few as six episodes, forcing writers to string together multiple projects and depend on savings in between jobs, he added.

"It's becoming just a gig economy," said Halpern, who has written for television for nearly 15 years.

"There's a misconception in the world that writers are this really rich group of people who all drive BMWs and send their kids to private schools," he added. "A lot of our members can't even pay their rent."

The proliferation of shows has also given rise to an industry practice known as the "mini-room," in which a studio assembles a small group of writers to create a show before it gets greenlit.

Studios often pay the minimum permissible for work in mini-rooms, but oftentimes a production company lets go of some of the writers even if a show moves forward, leaving them cut out of additional pay as the show moves toward completion, Halpern said.

"Pay us a premium for being in these rooms because that's the hardest work to do as a writer," Halpern said.

PHOTO: A scene from "Abbott Elementary."
A scene from "Abbott Elementary."
Scott Everett White/ABC

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, or AMPTP, which negotiates on behalf of TV and movie production companies, told ABC News in a statement that the strike vote amounts to a bargaining tactic.

"A strike authorization vote has always been part of the WGA's plan, announced before the parties even exchanged proposals," the group said. "Its inevitable ratification should come as no surprise to anyone."

"Our goal is, and continues to be, to reach a fair and reasonable agreement," the AMPTP added.

What happened the last time Hollywood writers went on strike?

The last time Hollywood writers authorized a strike, in 2017, the two sides reached a final-hour agreement that averted a work stoppage.

The most recent full-fledged strike, however, took place in 2007 and lasted 100 days, costing the California economy an estimated $2.1 billion.

Halpern said he hopes the writers avoid a strike this time around but he has "no idea" how long a potential strike could last.

"It's up to our membership and it's up to the studios," he said.

What would a strike mean for what's on TV?

A strike would immediately disrupt some daily programs that depend on writing staff, such as late shows.

It would also delay the development of scripted TV, potentially pushing back the release of new shows or forthcoming seasons of longstanding programs.

"The writers would stop work," Halpern said. "Pencils down."

"It would halt production on a lot of your favorite shows," he added. "But I would hope that people understand that this is a labor action."

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